SparkNotes Blog

Back to School With Shakespeare

If the 2001 movie O—an adaptation of Othello set at an elite boarding school and starring a whole slew of early-aughts heartthrobs (Julia Stiles! Mekhi Phifer! Josh Harnett! ANDREW KEEGAN!!!)—taught us anything, it’s that Shakespearean tragedies don’t tend to respond quite as well as comedies to the high school transplant treatment. Although perhaps She’s the Man is simply an impossibly high standard? But does that mean we should stop trying to set tragedies in high schools? Certainly not! In the immoral words of As You Like It‘s Claudio:

O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily
do, not knowing what they do! 
Onward, then!


In the weeks preceding his first day of classes, Prince Hamlet wakes up and practices his morning routine of debating the pros and cons of going outside to his bathroom mirror. He paces and mutters, eyeing his reflection warily, unsure if he can handle the forced social interaction and mindless work, and whether joining the Norwegian Cultural Society would be impishly subversive enough. He’s smart—he knows he could get good grades and make friends if he tried—but these days he can’t even seem to make his mind up about what color socks to wear, let alone which major he should choose or how he should avenge his father’s death. And how can everyone else go through their day exchanging pleasantries and fawning over their current crushes when there are real issues like conniving uncles and unsolved regicides to stew over? Actually, he wonders if “Founder: Vengeance & Regicide Society” would be impressive to the Brown admissions officer… But after two or three hours of flummoxed inaction, Hamlet always makes it outside. But he’s not out of the woods yet: to be near the board or far from the board? Homeschooling it is!

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth deals with going back to school like she deals with any upcoming problem: with rigorous scheming and preparation. She’s already developed a plan for being accepted by the top sorority (core pillar of the plan: telling the other girls their outfit choices are brave), she’s had her classes and extracurricular activities set up for months, and she’s bought a semester’s worth of pens, pencils, printer paper, lined paper, folders, notebooks, and caffeine pills (after all, plotting really works the brain). Though her boyfriend isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, Lady Macbeth plans to help him rise in popularity as well, and as the duo ascends in the social ranks, they’ll crush anyone who gets in their way, prophecies be damned.


Perpetually love-struck Romeo knows his first week of school will be emotionally taxing, what with all the girls reading books on the quad and sipping coffee in the library, so he prepares himself for the inevitable onslaught of crushes by getting in touch with his inner romantic: writing sonnets, going on long walks, scoping out the best date spots. He spends time with his friends, though Benvolio caught a bad case of mono recently, and he distracts himself from the thought of returning to school by crashing parties, practicing swordplay, and worrying his parents with his sleep habits. What Romeo is really nervous about, though, is running into the one—he’s been pretty bent out of shape about his last crush, but maybe once he’s back on campus with a million girls his age, he’ll spot one at a party from a rival house, they’ll fall madly in love, and of course they’ll live happily ever after(/make out a little in his car). Fool-/star-proof!